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Public Petitions Process Review

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I agree with Hanzala Malik on that point. Petitioners who have brought petitions forward to the committee that have not been successful should have another route through the Parliament.

I thank my fellow committee members, both past and present. Thanks must also be given to the committee’s support staff for their hard work and advice, which have been invaluable to members in the many varied tasks that they undertake.

David Stewart, Jackson Carlaw and John Wilson all mentioned the success of the mesh petition. The evidence session was one of the most emotional that I have sat through, not only for the petitioners but for those of us who were there on the day.

Hanzala Malik spoke about engagement with ethnic minorities—or rather, the lack of such engagement by the Parliament and the Public Petitions Committee. We need to look at that to see whether we can increase engagement with groups out there that we cannot reach.

I congratulate John Wilson on being the longest-serving member of the committee.

Stewart Stevenson came up with the really novel idea that we could go out and engage with the general public by advertising on TV to see whether we could reach more of them. That is perhaps an idea that the Public Petitions Committee could take on.

Angus MacDonald and Joe FitzPatrick mentioned the Tinkers’ Heart, which I will come to in a moment. Michael McMahon talked about the quality of the engagement during the committee’s visit to Inveraray. Anyone who was there will know that it was one of those meetings at which the public engaged with the committee. It is that to which I will turn now.

The meeting of the Public Petitions Committee that took place in Inveraray in September 2015 was an excellent example of how engagement between local communities and the Scottish Parliament can be beneficial. Such engagement allows people to feel not only that they are an integral part of the petitions process, but that their contributions will be taken into account in determining a final outcome.

It was heartening to see that the 14th Public Petitions Committee meeting in 2015, which was held on a glorious day in Inveraray, was well attended by members of the public. The reaction of Jess Smith, following her submission on and successful conclusion to the Tinkers’ Heart petition, was indicative of just how important it is to members of the public to feel that they are a part of the whole process.

During the question-and-answer session, Alan Reid, the former MP for Argyll and Bute, not only thanked the committee for coming to Inveraray, but commented on the Westminster parliamentary committee system and how it could learn from the Scottish Parliament.

The reaction of the public involved to that meeting serves to illustrate how advantageous such a process is in providing a positive experience for many communities and making them feel that their voice is being heard and that their opinions are valued. It also showed the openness and willingness of the Scottish Parliament to engage with the public in their own backyard on issues that are important to them and will impact on their lives in some way.

The debate has highlighted the importance of the petitions process in raising issues of concern and acting as a gateway to wider engagement with the Parliament. It seems appropriate to close the debate not with my words but with the words of a petitioner, who wrote:

“I have always been very engaged with Parliament, but I definitely felt more enthused by Parliament. I feel it’s a very good organisation. I didn’t doubt it in the first place, but I just feel it’s a really good organisation we’ve got … I haven’t written to my MSPs on any issues for a while, but I definitely feel more confident about writing to parliamentarians.”